Among several of Steve Kerr’s favorite coaching platitudes, the term that often comes up the most is the concept of “force.”
It’s not something one can easily measure using numbers or any sort of tangible metric available out there. Perhaps only the eye test can truly capture what it is, but even so, it’s not enough to just watch and expect to understand it — one must also know what they’re looking out for.
When the Golden State Warriors decided to sit out four of their five starters in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins against the New Orleans Pelicans, the conclusion was etched in stone. There was no viable way for the Warriors’ bench crew to win against a full-strength Pelicans team. As such, the result became immaterial, and the process itself took center stage.
Good and bad process can take several forms. Individual process involves fundamentals on both ends of the floor — e.g., shooting form, decision making, passing, shot profile, positioning, etc. Collective process takes all of those individual skill sets and determines how it all meshes together, and whether they manage to paint a cohesive picture.
An ideal second unit/bench crew not only must be able to mesh well and complement the skill sets of the starting unit — they have to provide a consistent stream of continuity that’ll allow the entire machinery to keep running without much of a hitch. They may not be able to fully replicate what the starters are able to do — after all, none of them are at the level of a Curry or Green — but there must at least be an understanding of how the machine works to the point where they’re able to keep it afloat.
Whenever Kerr refers to “force,” it includes the concept of continuity. If half-court sets are run with force, it means there is a certain level of understanding prevalent across the board. If the number one option is able to execute how a certain play is being run, then the 15th man on the roster should also be able to execute to a certain (passable) degree.
When this possession came up during the game against the Pelicans, my eyebrows were raised:
This is one of the Warriors’ pet half-court sets called “Head Tap” (because the hand signal for this is Kerr tapping his head). Ideally it should involve a cross-screen underneath the rim for a player to cut to the opposite block and get deep post position. If the cross-screen is overplayed (like what happened in the clip above), the next option is for the receiver of the screen to “zipper” cut toward the top of the arc, after which the initial cross-screener — often a guard — is supposed to set an “inverted” ball screen.
When Jonathan Kuminga is overplayed and thus denied the cross-screen, he then cuts toward the top of the arc, following the second option to a tee. He then expects an inverted screen to be set for him — however, he ends up waiting for nothing.
For reference, this is what “Head Tap” should look like if the zipper-cut option is the one available:
Another instance of a set that wasn’t run with much intention came in the second half. The Warriors like to run a play that has become commonplace in the NBA called the “Knicks” step-up ball screen action, usually preceded by leaking someone out toward the wing out of HORNS — aptly called “HORNS Out.”
BREAKDOWN— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 10, 2022
Versatility and counters: two must-haves when it comes to the Warriors' set plays.
"HORNS Out Knicks" is such an example. When opponents take away one aspect, a built-in counter is ready to pounce on unsuspecting defenses.
The Warriors’ play call for this is “Step” — probably for the step-up screen that aims to get the ball handler downhill.
Looks like the Warriors' playcall for HORNS Out Knicks is "Step" -- probably for the step-up screen that typically happens w/o an overplay on the reversal (there was on overplay here so they go to blind pig action instead of the step-up screen). https://t.co/x7po8i745E pic.twitter.com/jIXKAvWvc4— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 20, 2022
Watch the Warriors’ bench mob and youth run the same play during this possession:
It doesn’t look exactly like the typical set play — there’s no “HORNS Out” to preface the actual step-up screen, and even the step-up screen itself looks more like going-through-the-motions movement rather than an actual screen set with oomph — but Ty Jerome tries to go through with his downhill drive anyway, which generates a paint touch with enough pull to leave Kuminga open for a three-point look.
The possession resulted in points, but I can’t help pointing out how disjointed the set looks compared to when more experienced and cohesive units run it. The trademark flow is absent. The set is run at half-speed. There’s no semblance of connectivity and cohesion.
In other words, there’s no “force,” as Kerr would put it.
The fact of the matter is that right now, there’s a noticeable lack of plug-and-play in this roster beyond the main guys. Having JaMychal Green as a low-post passer in split action just doesn’t hit the same as Draymond Green being the low-post passer and threading precision passes to cutters diving inside.
When Draymond is the one making decisions during “Bilbao” split action (or “Gaggle” action, which is the team’s terminology for it), not only does he have the passing chops to deliver the ball through tight windows — he has the decision-making aptitude to know if the windows are open in the first place.
When it isn’t Draymond in the low post, the requisite decision making to know which option is available isn’t there:
This is where you appreciate Draymond Green's low-post passing more. Warriors run "Bilbao" split action/"Gaggle" action out of the timeout. JaMychal Green is the low-post decision maker... but he decides to thread the pass to the dive cutter where the window wasn't there. pic.twitter.com/T93X0OaY6u— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 22, 2022
Other than Kevon Looney’s five-minute stint that enabled him to meet his consecutive-games-played quota, the Warriors played all of their bench players, including their rookies and sophomores. In this season alone, lineups that don’t involve the starters have been outscored by 5.5 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, including offensive and defensive ratings that fall well below league-average marks, per Cleaning the Glass.
Obviously, not being able to play with all or some of the players that constitute the second-best five-man lineup in terms of net rating is a significant reason — but the apparent lack of force, the absence of continuity, and the dearth of plug-and-play personnel is hurting the team’s depth.